Get in line and fill up your plates! Join the picnic!
How I love love love this picture book, let me count the ways. It was actually love at first sight. I squealed when I first saw the title. “Auntie Yang?!”
Well, I just happen to have six Auntie Yangs and many fond memories of eating boiled soybeans just like the characters in the story. We had some lovely family picnics as well, though most of them were at the beach rather than in a relative’s back yard in the Midwest.
Just released in April, Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic (Lee & Low, 2012) was inspired by sisters Ginnie and Beth Lo’s childhood memories of their Auntie Yang who lived in Illinois.
As narrator Jinyi tells it, she, her little sister Pei and their parents often visited Auntie and Uncle Yang and their cousins, who lived a long car drive away. Both sets of parents had left China to study at American universities. They abandoned plans to return to their home country when the war made it too dangerous. So they stayed in Illinois and Indiana, raising their families in an area with very few Chinese Americans. All the more reason to stay close and visit each other as often as possible, so that the four cousins could grow up “as close as four soybeans in a soybean pod.”
During their happy weekends together, they worked on Chinese lessons, watercolor painting, and paper folding. They played backyard games and — *wait for it* — even had dumpling eating contests! One time on a Sunday drive, Auntie Yang spots a soybean field amongst the acres and acres of cornstalks. Oh, the excitement! How they missed the soybeans they had enjoyed so much in China! The farmer lets them pick some of the plants (which he was growing to feed the livestock) and the two families have their very first impromptu soybean picnic.
They enjoy it so much it becomes an annual event. The next summer they pick a few more plants and invite six families to join them. Soon word spreads all over the Chicago area and the picnic gets bigger and bigger — 30 families, then eventually over 200 Chinese immigrant mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children who meet in a city park to eat yummy Chinese food and play all kinds of games. Of all these picnics, which do you think Jinyi’s family liked most of all? You’ll have to read the story to find out!
Now, Ginnie’s story on its own is wonderfully delicious, but look at Beth Lo’s charming illustrations. They’re painted on porcelain plates! Talk about serving it up with style. Beth, an award-winning ceramic artist, has captured the warmth of family, the exuberance of children, the comfort of good homemade food, and the singular flavor of transplanted Chinese culture in her series of winsome, dishy vignettes, each of which tells a story of its own.
No surprise that Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic has already received three starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal, which calls it, “a stellar title that will rest comfortably next to acclaimed picture-book memoirs by Allen Say, Peter Sís, and Uri Shulevitz.” Ginnie and Beth have done a beautiful job of turning a personal memory into a story with universal resonance begging to be shared again and again. There’s also a great Author’s and Illustrator’s Note with wonderful family photos, info about Soybeans, and a Glossary with pronunciations and definitions of Chinese words.
Is there anything better than a shared meal with family and a new circle of friends? I think not! Be prepared to crave Chinese food after reading this book. Now, if you’ll excuse me, a bowl of soybeans has my name written all over it. Chi fan le! Time to eat!
AUNTIE YANG’S GREAT SOYBEAN PICNIC
written by Ginnie Lo
illustrated by Beth Lo
published by Lee & Low Books (April 2012)
Picture Book for ages 6-10, 32 pp.
Cool themes: Chinese Americans, immigrants, food, agriculture, friendship, family, intergenerational, community building, Midwest, social studies, cultural history
♥ Wonderful review by Terry Hong at Book Dragon
♥ Angelo Sosa’s Chilled Edamame and Spring Pea Soup recipe at Lee & Low’s Open Book blog. Yum!
**Spreads from Auntie Yang’s Great Soybean Picnic posted with permission, text copyright © 2012 Ginnie Lo, illustrations © 2012 Beth Lo, published by Lee & Low Books. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.